Top Iraqi diplomat deserts Saddam

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The Independent Online
ANOTHER damaging split has opened up in the family of Saddam Hussein, with his half-brother Barzan refusing to return to Baghdad from Geneva, where he has managed the regime's external finances for 10 years.

Former Iraqi diplomats said that Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, who is officially Iraq's permanent ambassador to the UN in Geneva, was ordered home 10 days ago but refused to go.

A former head of the Iraqi secret police and one of the most important members of the regime, Barzan is said by one ex-diplomats to be "very unhappy", according to the Arab daily al-Hayat. He is reported to be considering seeking political asylum in an unnamed country.

Since arriving in Geneva in 1989, Barzan has played a critical role in Iraq's finances, squeezed first by the need to pay for the Iran-Iraq war, then by loss of oil revenues after the Gulf war. He has normally acted through local lawyers and agents, but was known to sign cheques himself. One of Saddam's three half-brothers, he remained an adviser to the Iraqi leader.

The Iraqi regime has already been shaken by the defection of two of Saddam's sons-in-law with their wives to Jordan earlier this month. The divisions among the President's relatives, who have monopolised power in Iraq for almost 25 years, opened suddenly this summer because of the rise to power of the Iraqi leader's son Uday, who is considered blood-thirsty and erratic. Barzan is the brother of Watban Ibrahim al-Tikriti, who was shot by Uday's security men on 7 August after an argument at a dinner. The next day Saddam's sons-in-law fled to Jordan.

In a bid to stabilise his authority, Saddam has ringed Baghdad with three lines of troops, beginning with an outer defence of Republican Guards, then Presidential Guards and, finally, around the palaces of the leaders, separate bodyguard units. Uday also commands a 20,000-strong force known as the Fedayeen Saddam and designed to crush any potential coup.

In an effort to replace Barzan and other senior family members, Saddam is turning to professional army officers whom he believes he can trust.

Among them is General Hashem Sultan, recently appointed Defence Minister to replace Saddam's cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid, who negotiated the ceasefire in the Gulf war with the allied forces commander, General Norman Schwarzkopf, in 1991.